As the summer vacation drew to a close, local educator Noelle Smith spent 11 days in a classroom — but it was one far from Greeneville.
Smith, assistant principal at Greeneville High School, was one of 34 educators nationwide selected for an advanced learning seminar in Israel, sponsored by Echoes & Reflection, a resource for Holocaust educational materials.
“It was an amazing experience,” Smith said of the seminar and her first trip to Israel in July.
The seminar was held at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem. The goal of the event is to strengthen the educators’ knowledge and skills needed to effectively teach the complex history of the Holocaust, according to information from Echoes & Reflections, which is a joint program of the Anti-Defamation League, the University of California Shoah Foundation, and Yad Vashem.
Smith and the other participants had eight hours of class each day, and she earned 80 hours of continuing learning credits through the program. Topics for the classes ranged a variety of areas, including genocide and anti-Semitism then and now, she said.
“This program differed from others I’ve done as the learning goals focused on discovering who Jews were in their pre-war life, delving into individual stories, and studying communities,” Smith said. “Learning from rabbis, historians, journalists, artists, poets, and cinema experts shaped educational experience, reshaping perspectives and humanizing the diversity of Jewish cultures across Europe pre-1930.”
Leading Holocaust researchers were also among the lecturers in the seminar, and participants also heard from Efraim Zuroff, a “Nazi hunter” instrumental in bringing many to court to face war crime charges, she said.
“My question to wrestle with continues to circle around, ‘How does the most educated, cultured, and sophisticated society in the world (Germany) commit atrocious, murderous acts against its citizens and how does the U.S.A. guard itself against such insidious actions?’” Smith said. “How can schools highlight the ‘kind’-ness within humankind?”
Through her participation in the seminar, Echoes & Reflections is going to provide free materials for seminars about teaching the Holocaust that will be offered in the coming year. She said that what she has learned will also be part of next year’s Holocaust Conference.
As part of the seminar, participants visited the various parts of Yad Vashem, including its museums, exhibits and commemorative sites.
One of those commemorative sites was the Righteous Among the Nations, which honors non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from the Nazis.
Visiting that site was a highlight for Smith. “It was amazing to see Roddie Edmonds’ name,” she said. “It was incredible to think that one of the five Americans honored as the Righteous Among the Nations is from Tennessee.”
Edmonds, who was from Knoxville, prevented an estimated 200 Jews from being singled out for Nazi persecution and possible death at a prisoner of war camp in Germany during World War II.
Edmonds’ son, Chris, has spoken at the East Tennessee Holocaust Conference that is sponsored annually by the Greeneville and Greene County school systems. Smith is one of the local coordinators of that conference along with South Greene High School Principal Lori Wilhoit, which has been held at Niswonger Performing Arts Center.
Seeing the actual Schindler’s list was another moving moment for Smith. The seminar participants met two people who were among the over 1,200 Jews saved by German industrialist Oskar Schindler.
Although he was a member of the Nazi Party, Schindler protected Jewish employees in his factories, and after witnessing the murder of hundreds of Jews in the clearing of the ghetto in Krakow, Poland, he actively worked through the end of the war to save as many as he could using his factories.
“It was a story of hope and humanity,” she said. “They told us that the Nazis would give them names like ‘hog’ and ‘rat.’ But, they said that Schindler called them ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am,’ treating them with respect, and gave them back their humanity.”
There were times she became overwhelmed with emotion, such as seeing Schindler’s list, and broke down, Smith said. “Everyone in the seminar had their places that they had a break down.”
The tragedy of what happened in the Holocaust and the consequences of hate were not easy to study for hours at a time, Smith said, and she would take a long walk after classes to try to process what she had learned that day and also decompress from it.
One focus in the study was using art, poetry and cinema to engage children and adults in learning about the Holocaust, she said.
Yad Vashem itself uses this premise — everything has been well planned and designed to be thought provoking, Smith said.
A memorial to the more than a million Jewish children who were killed during the Holocaust was heart-wrenching, she said.
The memorial contains two rooms: The first is dark, and the flooring makes it hard to keep solid footing, while the other has five candles and numerous mirrors covering the walls. The reflection of the candles in the mirrors looks liked thousands of stars, Smith continued.
Smith said she found Israelis to be a friendly and kind people, something she soon discovered as she received help finding her way in a bus station. Smith arrived in Tel Aviv two days prior to the beginning of the seminar and traveled by bus in the city.
Although Smith found it easy to use the bus system, when she went to leave for Jerusalem, the station where she needed to catch her first bus had signs only in Hebrew.
As she was trying to figure out what to do, she said she was approached by a young man who spoke English. She explained her quandary to the man, who was an Israeli soldier, and he gave her instructions on which bus to catch and paid for her ride on that bus to the station where she boarded another to Jerusalem.
Smith said she tried to pay him the amount of the bus ticket, but he refused the money. “He said that I needed help, and he was there to give that help,” she said.
Smith and the other seminar participants visited some of Israel’s most famous historical and cultural sites to increase their understanding of the Jewish story and provide perspective on the life that was built following the Holocaust.
While in Jerusalem, she visited some of the most holy places for Christians, such as the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The Western Wall was also a special place, Smith said. “The Jews don’t like it called ‘the Wailing Wall,’” she said. “It is a very devout place.”
Smith recalled seeing a Sabbat, the Jewish Sabbath celebration at the Western Wall. “It was a joyous celebration,” she said. “They danced and sang songs of praise.”
For Shabbat, all the businesses shut down by mid-afternoon for the evening worship services, she said. At the hotel she was staying, a special meal was prepared, and families came together to enjoy the meal and talk without interruptions from cellphones and other technology.
Smith also visited the Dome of the Rock, the ancient Jewish temple mount that is now the location of an Islamic mosque, considered on of the most sacred places by Muslims.
The Greeneville Board of Mayor and Aldermen and city officials toured the First Tennessee Bank location at the corner of North Main and Depot streets Thursday morning as a possible future location for a town hall.
Town officials have been contacted about their interest in use of the multi-story, sizable facility. “Space, as you know, is not plentiful at Town Hall,” City Administrator Todd Smith said as the group began the tour. “In the next 10 years or so the town is going to have to do something with Town Hall. I think when an opportunity comes up like this one, you have to investigate it.”
Obtaining the building in the future would enable the Greeneville Police Department to use the entire current Town Hall facility.
Consideration will require lots of information about the building and a careful thought about how the town could use it, Smith said.
Whether the town decides to obtain to the building or not, Smith asked board members and officials to think about other community uses for the facility.
Local businessman and philanthropist Scott Niswonger, who is a member of the board of directors of First Horizon (First Tennessee Bank’s parent company), told the town officials that the bank would like to the see facility benefit the community in some way in the future, which is why the town was approached.
Following the tour, Niswonger said that the size of the building is probably more than would be needed for Town Hall functions, but asked the town officials to consider ways that the remaining space could be used to help the community grow.
He recommended town officials watch a recent feature by CBS News about Tulsa, Oklahoma, which describes some of the challenges the municipality was facing, like declining population, that Greeneville also faces.
Tulsa officials have started a program to recruit technology professionals and provide space inside a government-owned building to start businesses, Niswonger said, wondering whether Greeneville could consider a a similar recruitment program.
Following the tour, Smith said the future of Town Hall would be a good topic of discussion for a board retreat scheduled for September. A price for the bank was not disclosed during the tour.
First Tennessee Bank Facility Manager Brad Miller led the tour, which included each floor: office spaces, meeting and training rooms, and storage space.
For decades the building served as the headquarters for Greene County Bank, which was founded in 1890 and opened for business in 1891. The first bank at the current location was built in 1893.
The existing building was built in 1926, expanding the size for the bank from the original structure, a brick building that was caddy-cornered to the intersection of Depot and North Main streets.
The bank grew to serve other communities and had grown to 65 branches by 2011, doing business by then under the name GreenBank in East and Middle Tennessee with locations in Bristol, Virginia, and Hot Springs, North Carolina. The bank also owned several other financial businesses.
In 2011, North American Financial Holdings Inc. bought GreenBank. It became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Capital Bank, the banking subsidiary of North American Financial Holdings. The sale was the result of under-capitalization problems at GreenBank resulting from the non-performance of a number of major real estate loans following the Great Recession.
Last year, First Horizon, the parent company of First Tennessee Bank, merged with Capital Bank. The North Main location then became a branch of First Tennessee Bank. However, First Tennessee has also had a branch at 206 N. Main St. for decades.
Michael S. Reneau, who has served as editor of The Greeneville Sun since 2015, is leaving the post later this month. Sun Publisher Gregg K. Jones has named Scott Jenkins next editor of the Sun, effective in early September.
Jenkins is an award-winning newspaper editor who currently works in North Carolina as regional executive editor of the Times-News of Burlington and The Dispatch in Lexington.
Reneau is taking a position as deputy editor of WORLD News Group, a Christian national news outlet that publishes WORLD Magazine, web exclusive content and several radio programs/podcasts.
Reneau joined the Sun in November 2013 as assistant managing editor. Less than a year later, then-Editor John M. Jones Jr. promoted him to managing editor. Then in 2015, when Jones retired, Reneau became editor.
“Michael has served The Greeneville Sun and our community faithfully since coming here nearly six years ago,” Publisher Gregg K. Jones said. “We are sad to see him go but are excited for him in the next chapter of his career. But in Scott Jenkins we’ve found a talented, experienced and skilled newsroom leader who will continue in directing our news staff to produce the journalism our community wants and needs.”
Jenkins, who was born and raised in Oak Hill, West Virginia, has spent the last 23 years in a variety of newspaper roles in North Carolina. As a reporter early in his career, Jenkins covered virtually every beat possible, including government, crime and politics. After six years as a reporter with the newspaper, in 2005 he began a stint as night editor of the Salisbury Post in Salisbury, North Carolina. Two years later the newspaper named him assistant managing editor, before he became news editor in 2009, a role he filled for seven years.
In 2016, The Dispatch in Lexington, North Carolina, tapped Jenkins as its executive editor. There he led all facets of the five-day-per-week paper’s editorial operations and launched a new outdoors magazine. Earlier this year he became regional executive editor in addition to his previous duties, as he assumed oversight of the newsroom of the Times-News in Burlington.
Jenkins and his staffs have earned multiple awards from the North Carolina Press Association and the North Carolina Working Press organization. He earned a first-place award for editorial writing as editor of The Dispatch.
Jenkins said producing quality journalism — and helping others do so — motivates him more than awards.
“I’m a firm believer in the importance of community journalism and its mission to inform and empower readers with news they need and enrich their lives with stories about the great things happening around them and the people making those things happen,” Jenkins said. “I’m thrilled to join the team at The Greeneville Sun, which has carried out that mission for 140 years. I hope to build on that legacy, and I look forward to getting to know the community.”
Jenkins graduated from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He has one son, Eduard, who will be a freshman this fall at North Carolina State University.
Under Reneau’s leadership, journalists at the Sun earned multiple awards from the Tennessee Press Association and the Tennessee Associated Press Broadcast and Media Editors organization along with national recognition for public notice-based reporting. Last month, Reneau won a first-place award from the Tennessee Press Association for best single editorial.
He was the first Sun editor not to be related to the late Edith O’Keefe Susong since she purchased the newspaper in 1916. He led the newspaper through several operational changes, including a move in 2016 to shift the paper’s daily design to an Adams Publishing Group-owned production hub based in Boone, North Carolina.
“Being entrusted with stewarding the Sun’s news operations has been a privilege, and I can’t thank this company or community enough,” Reneau said. “Each day I came to the Sun to tell the stories Greene County needs to hear and to hold our public officials accountable. I have worked with devoted, talented and faithful colleagues here. They’re the backbone of this newspaper and always will be.”
In his new role, Reneau will lead investigative reporting for WORLD News Group, edit features in WORLD Magazine and will have varying roles in WORLD’s online and radio/podcasting platforms. WORLD, whose business offices are located in Asheville, North Carolina, has reporters stationed across the country and internationally.
Reneau, his wife, Julie, and their children — Jesse, Miles, Adeline and Hudson — will continue to live in Greeneville as Reneau works for WORLD.
“This has become our home, and we love this community,” Reneau said. “We’re excited for the times ahead and are thrilled to experience it from our Greene County home. And I’ll look forward to getting my copy of the Sun every day.”
Joshua Isaiah Howard, one of two men involved in an April officer-involved shooting incident in Greeneville that left his associate dead, is now in the custody of North Carolina authorities.
Howard, 23, entered guilty pleas in May to charges related to the incident, and was served a fugitive from justice arrest warrant last week in the Greene County Detention Center.
He was extradited Thursday to North Carolina after completing court-imposed time served in Greene County, jail Administrator Roger Willett said.
Howard was driving a car late on the night of April 7 on Tusculum Boulevard that Greeneville police attempted to pull over for speeding. He didn’t stop and a pursuit began.
The car eventually stopped in the 100 block of Mason Street, and Howard got out and ran into a nearby apartment complex, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
A woman who was a passenger in the car told police she and Howard lived in a Mason Street apartment. Police obtained consent to search the apartment.
After entering, officers encountered a second man, later identified as 24-year-old Anthony Orlando Bowers, of Asheville, North Carolina.
Bowers “became combative, pulled a gun on the officers, and fired shots. Two of the officers were struck. The two officers returned fire, hitting the man,” a TBI statement said.
Bowers died in the exchange of gunfire.
The police officers suffered leg wounds. They have since recovered. The TBI completed an investigation later in April that concluded the Greeneville officers followed proper law enforcement procedure in their response during the incident.
Howard was taken into custody April 7 by police and charged with felony reckless endangerment and felony evading arrest. He was also cited for speeding, having no vehicle insurance and driving without a license.
Howard waived a preliminary hearing in General Sessions Court. A July 31 Greene County Criminal Court arraignment date was set.
Howard appeared May 9 in Greene County Criminal Court and reached an agreement with prosecutors that included guilty pleas to the felony counts and the traffic offenses. Howard was sentenced by Judge John F. Dugger Jr. to serve one year on the evading arrest conviction, with time for the other offenses he was convicted of to run concurrently.
Howard was served the North Carolina warrant for felony parole violation on July 24 in the Greene County Detention Center.
Howard has an extensive criminal record in North Carolina, including an October 2014 conviction for armed robbery in Buncombe County, where Asheville is located. He served prison time before release on parole in September 2018, according the North Carolina Department of Public Safety.
Howard violated his North Carolina parole by committing the crimes in Greene County.
Bowers, the man killed in a gunfire exchange with police, was a fugitive from justice in North Carolina and had apparently been living in Greeneville before the April 7 incident on Mason Street.
Bowers was a suspect in a hit-and-run incident involving a vehicle that seriously injured an Asheville Police Department officer on Dec. 7, 2018. Asheville police considered him “armed and dangerous,” a police spokesperson said.
Howard gave police a home address in Asheville, even though the woman with him during the April 7 pursuit said they both lived at the Mason Street apartment. The woman was not charged and has not been identified.
District Attorney General Dan E. Armstrong said in April that the individuals frequenting the Mason Street apartment “had connections to the Asheville area.”